Cycling safety and Bike Paths/Lanes

Cycling is a big issue for me, and I see encouraging cycling as having numerous benefits, to everyone, including those who will never trade their car for a bike for any of their trips. I’m far from an anti-automobile guy. I’ve bummed too many rides over the years to do that. Most people I’m close to are drivers. They aren’t evil, or bad, or even wrong, and they aren’t the enemy. We all need to get along.

I’m deeply disturbed by “activist” cyclists who demonize the automobile. I feel it causes those on the other side of the debate to dig in their heels. It breeds resentment, not understanding, and certainly not agreement. I see some of those cyclists as having some kind of hero complex. They want to be known for standing up to the “bad guy”. They’re less interested in solving a problem as in spoiling for a fight.

There’s a perception bike paths and bike lanes make cycling safer. They don’t, necessarily. An argument can be made the reverse is true. What does make cycling safer is more cyclists, and to the end the perception of increased safety leads more people to take up cycling, they help. I understand where the perception comes from. From a distance it seems obvious. Similar to riding on the sidewalk, which would logically appear much safer, but ironically has been proven to be among the most dangerous things you can do as a cyclist.

It seems safer. But my experience says otherwise, as have studies on accident rates, including some from the cycling Mecca, Amsterdam (actually Groningen in the North of the Netherlands. has the highest cycling rate, with 60% of trips by bicycle). Unfortunately the perception has taken on the air of incontrovertible truth, again understandably, and I’m concerned we’re spending tens of millions in Edmonton without addressing the real problem, and real solutions.

As someone who’s life was saved by my helmet (not in traffic), I’m hesitant to put too much faith in safety lectures by those (Europeans) who, for the most part, refuse to wear one.

I like bike paths. I’d like to see more of them. But only if done right, and not if it means a real or perceived loss of cyclists right to the roads (ie: “get the hell out of our way paths”). Doing them right means, among other things, education as to the laws and best practices, and to potential dangers, for both drivers and cyclists. I can’t quote figures off the top of my head, but I know the vast majority of cycling deaths occur in intersections (including alleyways and driveways), and there are just as many on most bike paths. With the added dangers from drivers who are less aware the cyclist is there, and cyclists too often lulled into a false sense of security.

At some point all cyclists will have to ride on the road, and they need to know how to do it, safely. Some best practices are seemingly counter-intuitive, such as always riding as far right as possible – seems like a good idea, but it’s often a bad idea.

Riding on the street, now, is not only very safe if done right, but even mundane. There are certainly streets I avoid. But most are fine. The key is vehicular cycling, riding predictably, and obeying the rules of the road. That way we all know what to expect from each other and can ride/drive accordingly. Fundamental to that is knowing the rules, rights and responsibilities, and best practices.

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